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I just finished answering the questions in the questionnaire sent by the Synod of Bishops to the world’s bishops. Or, at least I tried to. The poll is available in Dutch via this link.
Some questions were not that hard and quite fun to answer, while others were, well… virtually impossible to answer. I suppose that’s the result of compiling questions aimed at a very broad selection of people, ranging from lay unmarried faithful, via celibate priests with a pastoral responsibility to married couples with children. Add to that the great variety of cultural backgrounds and societies that faithful are a part of, and you are bound to come across questions which you can only answer with an honest “I don t know”, or something along the lines of “I’m sure my parish priest knows, but I sure don’t”. Still, I would assume I’m not the only one answering the questions (if you haven’t done so, go, do your bit), so what I missed others will add.
Secular media have presented the questionnaire as being about “homosexuals and contraception”, but, as often, that is a gross misrepresentation. The questions do touch upon those subjects, but their focus is greater: the pastoral care for families, in which marriage and the raising of children are an integral part. The Church’s teachings on sexuality, as well as the conflicting developments in society on these topics are related to that, and so appear in the questions as well.
The Church needs governance from above, but also knowledge of the situation “on the ground”. This poll is a first step to try and achieve that, in conjunction with the contributions of the bishops participating in next year’s Extraordinary General Assembly on “The Pastoral Challenges of the Family in the Context of Evangelization”.
A remarkable initiative from the Synod of Bishops – newly tasked to spearhead Pope Francis’ reforms under its new Secretary General, Archbishop Lorenzo Baldisseri (right) - will have many wondering (some with much hope, undoubtedly), if the Church has finally discovered democracy.
In a letter (via this link, scroll one age down) to the presidents of the world’s bishops’ conferences, Archbishop Baldisseri asked for an attached poll to be held among the parishes and deaneries, asking the Church’s faithful about many hot-button topics, as a quick review of the questionnaire reveals.
The poll should not be considered as an attempt by the Vatican to find out what the faithful want the Church to teach and believe, but rather how the teachings – especially those about the family, marriage, sexuality, children – take root in the smallest cells of the Catholic world: the parishes and other faith communities. In a way, this is democracy, in that the voice of all faithful is listened to, and in another way it is not, since that voice will not dictate teachings and faith. It can, however, and this may well be the intention the Synod of Bishops has, have influence on how these teachings and faith are communicated, promoted and accepted.
The unique effort is part of the preparation for the upcoming assembly of the Synod, on the “pastoral challenges of the family in the context of evangelization.” The bishops are asked to return the answers to the Synod by the end of January.
After a few days of rumours, it was confirmed today: Francis’ first class of cardinals is to be created on 22 February 2014, the Feast of the Chair of St. Peter. This places it a year and four days after Pope Benedict XVI next-to-last consistory which saw, among others, the creation of Cardinal Wim Eijk.
As February 2014 dawns, there will be 106 electors in the College of Cardinals, members who can vote in a conclave and also hold seats in the various dicasteries of the Curia. That is 14 below the flexible maximum number of 120, so Pope Francis could create as many as 14 new voting cardinals, which is a pretty standard number for a consistory. Added to that me be a number of non-voting cardinals, as Benedict XVI did in five of his six consistories. Likely candidates seem to be Archbishop Gerhard Ludwig Müller, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith; Archbishop Beniamino Stella, Prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy; Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, President of the Pontifical Council for the Family; and of course Archbishop Pietro Parolin, the Secretary of State.
But that’s just in the Curia. As to what diocesan bishops and archbishops may be created cardinals, the field seems to be wide open. Pope Francis most likely does not feel bound by the traditional cardinalatial sees, but much more by the person of a future cardinal. Coupled with his focus on the poor, we should perhaps not be surprised if a fair number of the new cardinals come from South America, Africa and Asia.
In the Low Countries, the eyes are of course on Archbishop André-Joseph Léonard, the great archbishop of Brussels. If elevated to the College of Cardinals, he would be the eight in a line of cardinals which began with Cardinal Engelbert Sterckx, created by Pope Gregory XVI in 1838.
Regarding other parts of the globe, the great guessing game is once more gearing up, and here is my tentative attempt at participating in it. The Holy Father may wish to focus especially on the aforementioned three continents of South America, Africa and Asia (the latter two notoriously underrepresented in the College of Cardinals which, it must be said, is not intended to be a representative body. For Pope Francis however, representation may be desirable) as part of the continuing reform of both the College of Cardinals and the Roman Curia. But, as far as the latter is concerned, the most effective first step is probably found in the field of appointments, and not in new cardinals yet.
Photo credit:  Michael Kappeler/DPA/Abaca Press/MCT
It seems that the Synod of Bishops has become the first curial body to undergo Pope Francis’ expected and announced reforms. Following the appointment of its new General Secretary, Archbishop Lorenzo Baldisseri in September, Pope Francis fairly soon afterwards announced the first major assembly of the Synod: an Extraordinary General Assembly titled “The Pastoral Challenges of the Family in the Context of Evangelization”.
Scheduled to take place from 5 to 19 November of next year, the assembly is styled ’extraordinary’ to signify the pressing urgency that Pope Francis attaches to the subject. Unlike the general assemblies, there will be no process of selecting participating clergy: the presidents of the world’s bishops conferences, the heads of the Eastern Churches, the heads of the Curia offices in Rome and three members of religious institutes are the designated participants by canon law. The participants from continental northwestern Europe will therefore be Wim Cardinal Eijk from the Netherlands, Archbishop André-Joseph Léonard from Belgium, Bishop Anders Arborelius from Scandinavia, and whoever the future president of the German Bishops’ Conference will be.
Today, Pope Francis selected the Relator General and the Special Secretary for the Extraordinary Assembly, which is only the third such gathering since the Synod of Bishops was created in 1965. The Relator General opens the assembly and gathers the conclusions and results for the final message and ultimately the Post-Synodal Exhortation that Pope Francis will write. This task will be performed by Péter Cardinal Erdö, the archbishop of Esztergom-Budapest and president of the Council of European Bishops’ Conferences. The Special Secretary, who records the proceedings of the Synod, is Italian Archbishop Bruno Forte (pictured) of Chieti-Vasto. He is also a member of the Pontifical Council for the New Evangelisation.
With the next assembly on the horizon we are still expecting the final act of the previous one. The Ordinary General Assembly on The New Evangelization for the Transmission of the Christian Faith closed in October of last year and the assumption then was that Pope Benedict XVI would publish its Post-Synodal Exhortation some time in 2014. Now that he has retired, and Pope Francis has begun his papacy, it will be the latter’s task to publish it. In June, he told the General Secretariat of the Synod that he would be writing much of the document in August and that it would be ready for publication before the end of the Year of Faith, on 24 November of this year.
Although much attention has been given to Pope Francis’s second interview in less than two weeks (more on that later), the real meat behind his proposed reforms is being discussed behind the closed doors of the private library in the papal apartments.
The Council of Cardinals, from left to right: Francisco Cardinal Errázuriz Ossa, Bishop Marcello Semeraro, Oswald Cardinal Gracias, Reinhard Cardinal Marx, Pope Francis, Oscar Cardinal Rodríguez Maradiaga, Giuseppe Cardinal Bertello, Seán Cardinal O’Malley, George Cardinal Pell and Laurent Cardinal Monsengwo Pasinya.
The Council of Cardinals (not the ‘G8′ – that’s a dumb name) will meet twice daily until Thursday. On Friday, they will accompany Pope Francis on his visit to Assisi. In the previous months, the cardinal members have been working generally solo, collecting information from the bishops, priests and faithful in their part of the world, although they have been in contact of course. During World Youth Day in Rio, some of them met up unofficially to speak about their mandate.
The meetings which started today will remain private and, as the coordinator of the group, Cardinal Rodríguez Maradiaga, we shouldn’t be expecting any sweeping changes just yet. The council’s work will take a long time, which is also the reason why Pope Francis made it a permanent body. Membership is to the Pope’s discretion, and we may expect a ninth member from one of the Eastern Churches soon.
In closing I recommend this interview with Cardinal Rodríguez Maradiaga, conducted by Fr. Thomas Rosica of Salt & Light TV, in which the cardinal speaks about the Council of Cardinals and their work, among other things:
Photo credit: Catholic News Service photo/L’Osservatore Romano via Reuters
A whole raft of new appointments and assignments in the Curia today. It seems as if Pope Francis is really getting to work with what he has been saying he would since his election: the reform of the Curia. New Secretary of State Archbishop Pietro Parolin is already waiting in the wings, ready to take over the office from Cardinal Bertone on 15 October. The Curia that he will be working closely with is starting to change with today’s transfers and appointments, although some prelates had their positions confirmed as well. These confirmations usually take place within the first week after a new Pope has been elected, but Pope Francis is taking his time: six months in, there are still prelates waiting to be confirmed.
I won’t hazard to guess if the appointments are wise or not, although I remain willing to give the Holy Father and the prelates in question every chance at doing their new jobs in the Curia, helping Pope Francis manage the Catholic Church and communicate, defend and confirm the faith that the Lord entrusted to her.
An overview at the changes:
Mauro Cardinal Piacenza, until today the Prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy, succeeds Manuel Cardinal Monteiro de Castro as Major Penitentiary. Cardinal Monteiro de Castro is 75 and has therefore retired. Cardinal Piacenza is 69 and has been a member of the Curia since 2000. He has been Undersecretary for the Congregation for the Clergy (2000-2003) and President of the Pontifical Commissions for the Cultural Heritage of the Church and for Sacred Archaeology following his consecration as bishop (2003-2007). In 2007 he was elevated to the dignity of archbishop and appointed as Secretary for the Congregation for the Clergy (2007-2010) and became its Prefect in 2010. In that same year he was created a cardinal. As head of the Apostolic Penitentiary, Cardinal Piacenza is in charge of the Church tribunal chiefly dealing with excommunications, dispensations and indulgences.
Archbishop Joseph Augustine Di Noia, was until today the Vice-President of the Pontifical Council “Ecclesia Dei”. He now returns to the office where he began his Curial career as he is appointed as Adjunct Secretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. This is a new position, as the Congregation also has a Secretary and an Undersecretary. Archbishop Di Noia began in the latter function in 2002. In 2009 he became the Secretary of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, which came with a consecration to bishop. In 2012 Archbishop Di Noia was appointed to “Ecclesia Dei”.
Archbishop Beniamino Stella succeeds Cardinal Piacenza as Prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy. He is a diplomat who began as Apostolic Delegate, Pro-Nuncio and Nuncio to various countries (Chad, the Central African Republic and Congo (1987-1992), Cuba (1992-1999) and Colombia (1999-2007). He was President of the Pontifical Ecclesiastical Academy which trains priests for diplomatic service, from 2007 to today.
- Archbishop-elect Jorge Carlos Patrón Wong, was until today the Bishop of Paplanta in Mexico. He has no Curial experience yet. From 2009 to 2012 he was Coadjutor Bishop of Paplanta, and last year he became the ordinary. He will be the Secretary for the Seminaries in the Congregation for the Clergy. This is a fairly new position, as the Congregation only received responsibility for the formation of priests in January of this year.
- Archbishop Nikola Eterovic, for more than nine years the General Secretary of the Synod of Bishops, the advisory body for the Pope which meets every couple of years for an intense series of discussions on specific topics. Before the task, Archbishop Eterovic served as the Apostolic Nuncio to Ukraine, and he will now return to such a diplomatic posting, except this time in Germany. He succeeds Archbishop Jean-Claude Périsset, who is some six months shy of his 75th birthday and will therefore retire.
- Archbishop Lorenzo Baldisseri, will retain one is his two offices, that of Secretary of the College of Cardinals. His other office, of Secretary of the Congregation of Bishops will be exchanged for that vacated by Archbishop Eterovic: Secretary General of the Synod of Bishops. Archbishop Baldisseri’s appointment may safely be considered in light of Pope Francis’ intent to move the Synod of Bishops to an instrument of an increased and more effective collegiality among the world’s bishops. Archbishop Baldisseri is also a diplomat, having served as Apostolic Nuncio to Haïti (1992-1995), Paraguay (1995-1999), India and Nepal (1999-2002) and Brazil (2002-2012).
- Archbishop-elect Giampiero Gloder is an official of the Secretariat of State who will succeed Archbishop Stella as President of the Pontifical Ecclesiastical Academy.
Archbishop Gerhard Ludwig Müller as Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
- Archbishop Luis Francisco Ladaria Ferrer as Secretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
- Fernando Cardinal Filoni as Prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelisation of Peoples.
- Archbishop Savio Hon Tai-Fai as Secretary of the Congregation for the Evangelisation of Peoples
- Archbishop Protase Rugambwa as Adjunct Secretary of the Congregation for the Evangelisation of Peoples.
- Archbishop Celso Morga Iruzubieta as secretary of the Congregation for the Clergy.